Experts agree that there's no better way for a manager to engage with your team members than regular one-on-one meetings. For example, here's Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, in a Harvard Business Review article: "One-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager," she says.
But far too often, one-on-one meetings turn into a lackluster recital of what the team member has accomplished since the last meeting. These status reports may make you feel like you know what's going on, and your team member feel like he/she reported a long list of activities, but they don't help your team member develop or gain the benefit of your wisdom and experience.
A much better way to facilitate part of your one-on-one meeting is to treat it like an interview, advises Ashley Prisant Lesko, author of Go Beyond the Job Description: A 100-Day Action Plan for Optimizing Talents and Building Engagement.
(Full disclosure: I read this book in galley form and wrote an endorsement blurb for the author.)
"A key purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to learn more about your employees," writes Lesko. "Think of it this way: You're an investigator, and you're trying to uncover information that can lead to a treasure. Your people have the information. How do you find out what they know?"
By taking the interview approach, you can discover emerging issues before they become major problems. And, most importantly, you can discover ways to unlock your team members' potential.
How do you go about interviewing your current employees? Lesko advises following these 6 steps:
Build rapport. Many people need to be warmed up--have a little "pre" discussion before the interviewing or fact finding starts. What are their interests? Family? What's on their desk at work? Ask questions. Encourage them to open up.
Explain why you're asking. Lesko advises saying something like: "I'm trying to learn a bit more about you. My goal is to help you get more out of your job--every day. So I'm working on learning more about your interests so we can see how we can better support you."
Ask a focused set of questions. Your time is probably limited, so you may not be able to ask about every topic in one conversation. So decide ahead of time what you'd like to focus on. Perhaps in this conversation you'd like to learn your team member's current experiences--both successes and frustrations. Or you might want to know what your team member aspires to, in this job and future roles.
Listen--and then listen some more. Lesko writes: "You may not know what's important right away--so listen even more intently. Nine times out of 10 you don't listen enough. Your team member should talk 75 percent to 80 percent of the time. Really."
Take notes. Unless you're Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and have eidetic memory, figure out how you're going to record the information so you can use it later. Lesko's approach? "I use a notepad and tell them I'll take notes (and that it's not a bad thing!)."
Articulate next steps. Make sure you're clear about how you're going to use the results, and whether there's a next step for you, or whether your team member should take action.
Once you've introduced the interview approach in your one-on-one meetings, build a plan for how to continue the process. After all, the more you learn about your people, the better you can take steps to set them up for success.